Golf Capital: Belgium’s World Cup triumph as The Match goes extra holes

@hamishneal

Belgium won the World Cup of Golf on the weekend it took Phil Mickelson 22 holes to win The Match as Aaron Rai scored the first European Tour event of the new season as the ET flew it’s way from the Middle East to Hong Kong to start a new season.

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Opening Drive

 

Belgian duo Thomas Pieters and Thomas Detry secured a world cup for the European nation, coming five months after they seemed to start the men’s football World Cup as everyone’s roughie before finishing third after they lost to France in the semi-final. An impressive three-stroke triumph capped proceedings on Sunday at The Metropolitan course to see them see of the host nation, Australia, and Mexico.

 

The victory was set-up as the Belgians entered the weekend tied for the lead before their round of 63 in Saturday’s fourballs (best ball) gave them a five shot lead heading in Sunday. This was not only the first time Belgium had won the event but their best result since a T4 in 1955!

It wasn’t pretty but Phil Mickelson ground out victory in The Match over Tour Championship winner Tiger Woods in the controversial Las Vegas contest on Friday. The win came after 22 holes but failed to get going early on from a quality point of view as it wasn’t until the fifth that each player registered their first birdie.

 

England’s Aaron Rai won the opening European Tour event of the season breaking a run of Australian winners of the Hong Kong Open after finishing at. Like Belgium in the World Cup Rai had a commanding lead (six strokes) heading into Sunday at the Fanling course but Matt Fitzpatrick’s six under 64 had the Wolverhampton native nervous until Sheffield’s Fitzpatrick dropped a shot at 17.
Player Performance Notes

 

This week the Australasian Tour heads to Queensland for the Australian PGA which is co-sanctioned with the European Tour.

 

Under 20: Lucas Herbert. Seventh in this event last year since then Herbert has placed in the top ten on six occasions in European Tour events which has seen him rise from 290 in the world to 82.

 

20 to 50: Cameron Davis. Despite only finishing T40 in his title defence of the Australian Open Davis showed signs of promise for this time of year going 69-68 in the middle two rounds which was impressive given the tough conditions on Saturday but the bookend rounds of 76 and 75 cruelled any real chance of a result. He showed great resolve after playing his first three holes in seven over.

 

20 to 50: Curtis Luck. Now a PGA Tour member Luck was 11th here in 2017 and might appreciate the return to the track having missed the last three cuts on the PGA Tour as he shifts from the Web.com.

 

20 to 50: Jake McLeod. The NSW Open winner followed that up with third in the Australian Open and he’s improved at this event in the last three years after missing the cut he was 25th in 2016 then 11th last year. Another interesting player here is Anthony Quayle who I watched at the Australian Open, he did well in the last co-sanctioned event between the two tours – the Fiji International.

 

Greens in regulation

 

For the fourth year since it’s inception the Greg Norman Medal has gone to a female with Minjee Lee claiming the honours at Tuesday’s awards night. Lee, who started the year ranked 19, is now ranked sixth having climbed to as high as five following an LPGA win during 2018 to go with her Victorian Open triumph. Lee joins Jason Day (twice) and Marc Leishman as winners of the award.

 

This week the limited field events start on the US PGA with the 18-player Hero World Challenge taking place in Bermuda. Whilst the European Tour’s other tournament for the week the Mauritius Open is held at the Four Seasons Golf Club in Anahita.

 

Tap In

 

Shadow Creek in Las Vegas played host to The Match and no other city in the US of A would have been more appropriate. My chief disappointment with it was not the concept itself which I’ve written about recently but more along the fact it wasn’t broadcast in Australia. At the time the 19-time combined major winners were competing for the USD9 million across the Foxtel platforms we copped replays of the previous day’s action in the World Cup of Golf and Hong Kong Open. That’s not unusual and in normal circumstances would be fine but if you are going to trumpet a brand new ‘Netflix for Sports’ it’s no good if you can’t get the big viewing event for that time on your main platform.

Technology was also a major hindrance to the coverage in the USA with the pay per view platform falling over and the event eventually going out for free (Doesn’t that sound familiar to FIFA World Cup fans in Australia.)

The apparently obscene prize fund could be argued to be a market correction or commission of sorts for two players who generate great interest which in turn generates revenue for the tour and it’s players. Would it have been acceptable if the prizemoney was 5 million or 3 million?

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Weighing up pros and cons of the event. The fact PGA Tour players compete for the funds they do each week is because of Tiger Woods and, to a lesser degree Phil Mickelson. The apparently obscene prize fund could be argued to be a market correction or commission of sorts for two players who generate great interest which in turn generates revenue for the tour and it’s players. Would it have been acceptable if the prizemoney was 5 million or 3 million?

 

Yes there should have been clarity around the charity aspects, yes there should have been more fans (maybe paying an entrance fee to said charity) but that wasn’t possible due to the rules around the use of drones in the TV coverage, strange but they are the civil aviation rules the event had to abide by.

But really if the argument is something like this shouldn’t at least be attempted because the prizemoney is too much it’s an odd position to come from and one with limited reasoning. As a change to the four day 72-hole stroke-play events which appear to take place on similar courses each week in the USA this is a good idea. I’d love a European Tour version with Rory McIlroy (assuming he stays eligible) versus Justin Rose. I’d also love more Golf Sixes events – team and individual.

Images via golfdigest.com and reviewjournal.com

Golf Capital: Ancer’s Aussie triumph, Friday at the Lakes

@hamishneal

Mexico’s Abraham Ancer capped an improved 2018 with a triumph in Sydney to claim the Australian Open comfortably as Danny Willett and Lexi Thompson won the season ending events on the European Tour and LPGA respectively. Keeping up the trend of veteran winners and drought-breakers Willett was joined by Charles Howell III who won for the first time in 11 (!) years.

 

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Opening drive

 

27-year-old Abraham Ancer dominated The Lakes Golf Club on Saturday before easing to victory on Sunday at the Australian Open and moved to a career-high 60 in the world I doing so. Ancer finished at 15 under, having signed for a seven under 65 on Saturday followed by a three under on the next day. Central Coast golfer Dimitrios Papadatos and Queensland’s Jake McLeod (who endured a rules issues on Saturday costing him strokes) won their way into the Open at Royal Portrush by virtue of their second and third place finishes.

 

Also at the Lakes on Sunday was the final round of the three-round Australian All Abilities Championship. Sweden’s Johan Kammerstad won by an astonishing ten strokes finishing at 17 over with Ireland’s Brendan Lawlor in second. Geoff Nicholas (+33) was the highest placed Australian in fourth.

 

Ariya Jutanugarn claimed all the prominent LPGA awards for 2018 to finish the season at number one but it was American Lexi Thompson who won for the first time this year as she won the CME Group Championship in Naples, Florida by four strokes over Nelly Korda. Thompson has won every year since 2011 (bar 2012.) Which is some feat when you remember she is only 23. Jutanugarn finished T5 six strokes back from Thompson’s 18 under.

 

England’s Danny Willett triumphed for the first time since his 2016 Masters win when he secured victory at the DP Tour World Championship in Dubai on the weekend finishing at 18 under. Francesco Molinari won the European Tour’s season-long  race. Willett started Sunday matched with this year’s Master champion Patrick Reed before an early bogey from Reed helped give Willett a lead he never relinquished.

 

11 years after he won the Nissan Open Charles Howell III beat Patrick Rodgers in a playoff at the RSM Classic to claim his third PGA Tour title. Rodgers had a record-setting weekend of scoring (61-62) to force the playoff and Howell, who could have won it in regulation, prevailed after the second playoff hole when he birdied 18 at the Sea Island Resort venue.

 

Player performance notes

To team golf for one of our last looks in 2018. Won last time (2016) by Denmark the World Cup of Golf goes to The Metropolitan in Melbourne with the home duo the favourites in the 28-team event.

 

Under 20: Australia. Cameron Smith was picked to join Marc Leishman by the CIMB Classic winner who admits he hasn’t played the course ‘in about 12 years’ but they got a good look at the venue with amateur Daniel Micheluzzi on Tuesday and are both in good form.

 

Under 20: USA. Matt Kuchar picked the consistent Kyle Stanley. The team leader has won recently and Stanley scored two high quality finished in 2018 (WGC – Bridgestone and The Memorial)

20 to 50: South Africa. Young South African duo of Dylan Fritelli and Erik Van Rooyen could be suited to the Melbourne Sandbelt. Van Rooyen was named the European Tour’s ‘graduate of the year’ and Fritelli has been playing in the USA recently plus registered a T7 in Dubai.

 

20 to 50: Sweden. Course familiarity with matter but given Denmark won last time out I’ll go with another European pair from that neck of the woods. Both Alexander Bjork (April in China) and Joakim Lagergren (May in Portugal) have won in 2018 giving them confidence for an event in which they’ll have no pressure.

 

Greens in regulation.
After the season wound up in the Middle East the ‘new’ European Tour gets underway with the Hong Kong Open. The Fanling track has been home to much success with Wade Ormsby the last winner and Sam Brazel before that.

 

The PGA Tour sanctions the World Cup of Golf so doesn’t have a direct event up against this tournament but there will be some focus on Friday (Saturday morning in some locales) when ‘The Match’ sees Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson battle it out over 18 holes of match-play for a USD9 million purse. When the made-for-tv event (there will be no spectators on the course bar VIPS and officials) was first flagged up I was not as opposed to it as others. If the event is perhaps the fore-runner to the return of Monday Night golf that is fine. I don’t think it takes the gloss off the World Cup too much, but I would like to see them pull the cash out each time they lose one of the side bets

 

 

Tap in

On the Friday of the Australian Open I did head out to the venue to check out proceedings. There is a good chance I’ll put something down to review the day but in case times gets away here are five musings

  • It doesn’t matter about the standard of players, which can be the catalyst to getting people to a tournament, once you are watching it live the nuances of the groups you are following become the focus.
  • Anirbarn Lahiri might be a sneaky candidate for Alpha-dog golfer of the year. He stood at the foot of the bridge waiting for Brandt Snedeker and Cameron Smith to play their third shots on 14 after driving the green in two.
  • What is the scale for ‘golfer hits you with their ball’ rewards? A gentleman was struck on the shoulder by a Brandt Snedeker drive on 14. He got a signed golf, but if it was say the hand would that be a signed glove and two balls?
  • Speaking of golf balls… shout out to Anthony Quayle for giving me his ball as he walked off the ninth (his last for the day and tournament) on Friday. Having missed the cut he could have sulked away but instead turned around to me as I passed the players and said “Thanks for coming out.” Quayle and his group which included Kiwi Nick Voke and fellow Australian Cameron John would have been followed by about 25 people across the four or so holes I followed them and it was a small touch for a player who would, rightly, not be in the mood for that sought of interaction after his round. Rather embarrassingly I couldn’t find a young child nearby to give the ball to but my eldest now has a new treasured sporting possession to go with the captain’s armband he was gifted from Wellington Phoenix skipper Andrew Durante last season.
  • People can’t leave celebrities alone some times. Jimmy Barnes was watching a group that included his good friend Peter Lonard and someone was still asking for a photo just as Barnes and the rest of the gallery was about to putt! What until the walk to the next tee champ!

 

Image via winghamchronicle.com.au

Golf Capital: Lopez joins a legend, two veteran triumphs, Australian Open for all

@hamishneal

No this is not a post from 2014 but veterans Matt Kuchar and Lee Westwood broke significant losing streaks claiming wins in Mexico and South Africa respectively on the weekend as the LPGA produced a first time-winner with Gaby Lopez claiming the spoils in China. This week the Australian Open becomes ‘the Open for all’

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Opening drive

 

American Matt Kuchar edged Kiwi Danny Lee by a stroke in the Mayakoba Classic to claim his first win on the PGA Tour since November 2014, and this first win anywhere since the 2015 Fiji International. Kuchar, 40, survived Lee’s six under par round of 65 with his own two under score to finish at 22 under, enough to secure the win.

 

Although Kuchar got a slice of luck as he stood on the 72nd tee with a one stroke lead. His tee shot looked bound for trouble when a fortuitous bounce out of the trees sent the ball nestled safely in the middle of the fairway. Mini-crisis adverted he parred the hole for his 14th professional victory.

England’s Lee Westwood started Sunday at Sun City two shots behind Sergio Garcia but produced a stellar round of 64 to win the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa by three strokes from the Spaniard. The comeback actually started at the last hole Sunday with Garcia bogeying the last and Westwood picked up a stroke to cut the margin before getting to work on Sunday. Westwood, 45, now has 43 triumphs as a professional.

In a hint of irony the week the male PGA Tour event was in Mexico that nation gained it’s second LPGA Tour victor as Gaby Lopez won the Blue Bay LPGA event in China. Lopez, who finished at eight under one stroke clear of Ariya Jutanugarn, joins 27-time winner LPGA winner Lorena Ochoa as the only Mexican winners on the top female tour. It’s not often one bogeys the final two holes and wins but Lopez, 25, now has her first significant result since joining the LPGA in 2016.

 

Player performance notes

The first of a great few weeks in Australian golf sees The Lakes in Sydney host the Australian Open as we get a small amount of international stardust with local Cameron Davis the defending champion. This comes after Jake McLeod won the NSW Open at Twin Creeks on Sunday.

 

Under 20: Abraham Ancer. With two top five finishes already this season on the PGA Tour Mexico’s rising star is in form even if somewhat fading after an opening round on 65 before eventually finishing T21 in his home nation last weekend. Less pressure this week in the Harbour City.

Under 20: Cameron Davis. PGA Tour rookie and defending champion Davis won in Nashville on the second-tier tour in the USA this year and was T3 in the Web.Com’s season ending event.

Under 20: Brandt Snedeker. The nine-time PGA Tour winner has won on this tour in 2016 when he blitzed the field by nine strokes in Fiji.

50-100: Nick Voke. The world 259 has come on in leaps and bounds with three wins in the PGA Tour of China this year including two starts ago. Kiwi Voke’s NSW Open result of T55 was disappointing but he does have multiple Top tens on the local PGA tour in 2018.

 

Greens in regulation.

Two main tours produce their finales this weekend with Francesco Molinari almost assured of winning the season-long title for the European Tour with the DP World Championship taking place in Dubai. England’s Tommy Fleetwood (who ironically went 4-0) playing with Molinari in the Ryder Cup can catch the Italian but he would need to win at the JJumeirah Golf Estates course and have Molinari finished outside the top five which is an unlikely set of results given his Open winner’s 2018 form. In Naples Florida the LPGA’s denouement sees Ariya Jutanugarn defend her crown in the CME Group Tour Championship. Jutanugarn leads the standings heading into the event at the Tiburon Golf Club’s Gold Course with Australian Minjee Lee in second and Brooke Henderson of Canada in third. The PGA Tour heads to Georgia with the RSM Classic at Sea Island which Austin Cook won in 2017.

 

Tap in

 

A week after bemoaning the addition of a tournament in Saudi Arabia to the European Tour’s schedule next season it was great to see a further step towards inclusion in golf coming up this week at the Australian Open. The Australasian PGA Tour event will include Paralympic hopefuls on the course with the staging of Australian All Abilities Championship happening in parallel with the Open. The news is even more welcome given the fact the mainstream tournament lacks a stone cold star (Sorry Keegan Bradley) In fact Spain’s Juan Postigo is world number two and is one of eight overseas competitors in the 12-player field who start their event on Friday. The news is very much welcome given the disappointment I noted in the past that golf is not yet included in the Paralympics, and at this stage won’t be so until at least 2028 with the 2024 application having been rejected (!) I know right!

Image via lpga.com

Golf Capital: Bryson, Rose, Hakatoa win again in 2018, Concern at 2019 Saudi event

@hamishneal

A high-flying weekend of golf in November saw quality winners as Justin Rose restored his spot atop the rankings, Bryson DeChambeau won in Las Vegas and Japan’s rising star Nasa Hataoka triumphed in a home event on the LPGA Tour.

 

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Opening drive

 

Olympic champion Justin Rose needed 73 holes to prevail in Antayla but his Turkish Airlines Open victory over Haotong Li in a playoff sent him back to the world number one spot. After Li started the day with a three-shot buffer the pair both had a chance to win it in regulation after Li had coughed up his lead by the time the final group made the turn. Rose saw Li three-putt on the playoff hole at the Regnum Carya Golf Club which gave Rose his 23rd professional win at 12th in the European Tour.

American Bryson DeChambeau won for the fourth time in 2018 with a clutch eagle putt on 16 delivering him the Shriner’s Hospital Open in Nevada. Defending champion Patrick Cantlay must have thought he was a fair chance of going back to back until Californian native Dechambeau’s eagle helped lead him to a final round five under 66 and the one-shot win. DeChambeau is not the mad scientist anymore he’s just simply an elite player now ranked number five in the world.

Australian Minjee Lee squandered a chance to win her fifth LPGA title after her six over 78 on Sunday saw her slip to T15 as Nasa Hataoka won by two strokes in the LPGA’s Toto Japan Classic at the Seta Golf Course in Shiga. Hataoka finished at five under 67 for her second win of the year to go with her triumph in Arkansas in June.

Player performance notes

 

If you’ve backed last week’s two playoff protagonists and Cross Counter in the Melbourne Cup it’s full steam ahead for the Australasian summer of golf. This weekend it’s the penultimate event for the European Tour season with the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa at The Gary Player Country Club.

 

Under 20: Branden Grace. Despite his lack of form that’s never been an impediment to Grace performing well in this event having gone 1-3-4 in the last three years here. Since 2012 Grace has only had one year (2013) when he has not won at least once.

Under 20: Haotong Li. After showing faith in Justin Rose in recent weeks it makes sense to look to the person he vanquished in the playoff here in Sun City. Li was T4 last year here and is in top shape.

20 to 50: Matt Fitzpatrick. The Englishman was eighth here last year and one of only three players to shot both rounds on the weekend at sub 70. If the European Masters winner can recapture his form of recent weeks he should perform strongly.

50 to 100: Erik Van Rooyen. Another South African, Van Rooyen had a good period around the time of the Open, where he finished T17. This included three top eleven finishes in the UK and Scandinavia. The 28-year-old won twice last year including in South Africa on the Sunshine Tour.
Greens in regulation

 

Wollongong native Jordan Zunic won in Brisbane on the weekend courtesy of a one-stroke triumph over Rhein Gibson in the Queensland Open at the Brisbane Golf Club. Zunic faltered at various stages after opening his round with a five-shot lead. The Australasian PGA Tour heads to New South Wales this week where Jason Scrivener won in 2017 at Twin Creeks in Penrith.

 

This week on the PGA Tour the Mayakoba Golf Classic takes place near Cancun in Mexico whilst the LPGA Tour has shifted to Hainan Island, China for the Blue Bay LPGA with the event having started on Wednesday.

 

Tap in

 

The announcement of tour schedules in golf usually passes with little comment, bar the odd quibble about course selection for majors, but the recent confirmation Saudi Arabia appears on the list of European Tour venues in 2019 caused serious consternation in the sporting world.

The move had been flagged some time ago but with the full announcement of the schedule in late October not long after Saudi agents murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Turkey it was, at best poorly-timed, even if it was promoted in scant fashion.

 

The event at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in the King Abdullah Economic City to the North of Jeddah is rapidly approaching given it starts on January 31 and it is no small-fry event with recent world number one Dustin Johnson and defending US Masters champion Patrick Reed among those to already commit to the tournament.

There are dozens of reasons people could boycott sporting events in certain nations due to government policies and course owners but rarely are sponsorships of sporting tournaments so directly linked to government’s which have undertaken brazen attacks on foreign soil. The Independent’s Tom Kershaw noted recently “The deal to take a tournament to Saudi Arabia for the first time was struck in March 2018 when the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia himself, Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, came to London to concrete a deal with European Tour CEO Keith Pelley.” So it is not a tournament which has some minor link to the Kingdom.

 

Malachy Clerkin in the Irish Times has called on media to boycott the tournament and there are times when ‘grow the game’ is important but ‘be a good human’ always comes before that. It’s also ironic given the week after the Saudi International the Vic Open, one of the most inclusive and progressive golf tournaments in the world, becomes a European Tour event for the first time.

Image via progolf.today